13 Feb Forget about Aristotle
According to Aristotle a plot must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This model surely works effectively in elementary school or when someone is already a really skilled storyteller. Aristotle’s model is usually presented like this:
But for those who are neither beginners nor perfect, Aristotle’s model is too simple and straightforward. No way is it possible or even desirable to write a story that consists only of upswings and downswings. Furthermore, what makes this model truly erroneous is the fact that the beginning and the ending are on the same level.
So forget about Aristotle and check this out:
This model has the same steps as Aristotle’s model–a beginning (step 1), a middle (step 4), and an end (step 7)–but instead of the story being one full-steam-ahead upswing and downswing, it is a mixture of both. This model leaves your audience with a greater understanding of the matter at hand. Let’s break it down:
1) Hook: what gets your audience interested
2) Presentation: what your story is actually about
3) Development: the reason why your audience should care for this issue and what its relation is to their lives
4) Point of no return: when your audience learns something new and revolutionary for the first time. Note that even if your audience stopped following your story at this point, they would have learned something new nevertheless.
5) Tension rises: the answer to the question “what does this mean?”
6) Climax: a solution or an end result
7) Wrap up: a summary that doesn’t leave your audience alone with the story and the information it provided
A) Your audience’s’ knowledge before reading your story
B) Your audience’s’ knowledge after reading your story
This model was taught to me during my first course in Gothenburg university. For me its strength lies in it giving room for the audience to reflect on, breath and internalize everything they’ve read and learned. It also contributes to making a change in a person’s behaviour, deeds and opinion.
Learning can be defined in many ways, but most psychologists agree that it is a somewhat permanent change in a person’s behavior. This change is affected by experiences. What makes this interesting in relation to the storytelling model represented above is that learning in itself doesn’t necessarily lead to a change. According to psychologist Albert Bandura, new skills and information is actually taken into use only when there is a need or motivation to utilize the new information.
What does this mean in terms of storytelling?
Steps 2, 3 and 4: Presentation, development and point of no return
Years ago when I studied for the university’s entrance exam, I remember reading a theory about influencing. The theory says that if you want to enhance an opinion that a person has, you have to present information that only supports the existing opinion. The theory also says that if you want to change a person’s opinion and thus behaviour, the most favourable thing to do is to present information that both supports and repeals the existing opinion.
When working on a story–and it really doesn’t matter if it’s a news story, press release, podcast or a video clip–you have to take your audience’s opinion, behaviour and experiences into account. As a storyteller you have to put these things into proportion with what you are communicating.
This is important because you want your audience to relate to your story. Relation is the only way to engagement. But by no means do I mean that you would have to do curry favour to your audience. Engagement and identification is as much about choice of words, sounds or pictures as it is about the topic.
When your audience feels like they can relate and have discussions with your story, the story is doing what it is supposed to do. This is why the steps presentation, development and point-of-no-return are important. They are a mixture of ups and downs, old and new, something that discretely guides your audience towards your story’s big bang.
Steps 5, 6 and 7: Tension rises, climax and wrap up
After the point of no return it is time to kick things up a notch. This is the part where you motivate your audience and give them the need to use the new information they have gotten. By now, at the latest, you also need to answer the question so what.
According to expectancy theory people choose how to behave based on the outcomes they expect their changed behaviour to have. The choice of behavioural change is also influenced by how likely people deem these expected outcomes to be.
These are exactly the things that your story needs to answer. This simply means that where the point of no return appeals to the audience’s feelings, the climax and wrap up appeal to the audience’s wit. And when your audience gets an epiphany, your story is successful.
Aristotle is rightfully referred to since he was one of the great thinkers throughout time. During my university studies his theories are in the core of speech communication studies, storytelling courses and learning how to write engaging articles.
But the problem with these kind of established theories is that they are rarely explained or challenged. I went through several years of studies and work before I really started to question how stories are done. And so, the model presented in this blog post is a result of my epiphany. It is also how Sivukonttori’s blog posts are structured. Take it, question it and make it your own.